Editors Guild urges Manipur govt. to close cases against its president and fact-finding team members

The Guild says it is extremely disturbed that rather than respond to the concerns raised in the report in a meaningful way, the State government has registered FIRs

September 05, 2023 07:15 pm | Updated 10:14 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The Guild, in a statement said it was shocked by the “intimidatory statements made by the Chief Minister of Manipur N. Biren Singh in response to the report”. File.

The Guild, in a statement said it was shocked by the “intimidatory statements made by the Chief Minister of Manipur N. Biren Singh in response to the report”. File. | Photo Credit: ANI

The Editors Guild of India (EGI) on September 5 urged the Manipur government to close the cases registered by the State police against its president and the members of a fact-finding team, stating that its report on media coverage of ethnic clashes, was aimed at enabling introspection and reflection on the media’s conduct in such a sensitive situation.

Stating that it was disturbed by the registration of First Information Reports (FIRs) against the EGI president and the fact-finding team members who had visited Manipur to study and document media’s coverage of ethnic clashes in the State, the Guild, in a statement said it was shocked by the “intimidatory statements made by the Chief Minister of Manipur N. Biren Singh in response to the report”.

Also read | The challenges of reporting on an ethnic conflict

The Guild said it had received several representations from civil society as well as the Indian Army raising concerns that the media in Manipur was playing a partisan role in the ongoing ethnic conflict between the majority Meitei community and the Kuki-Chin minority.

“The Guild had sent a three-member team to Manipur to examine the media’s reportage in the State as well as the effects of internet shut down. The team met a cross-section of reporters, editors, representatives of the Editors Guild of Manipur, All Manipur Working Journalists Union, civil society activists, public intellectuals, women affected by the violence, tribal spokespersons and the representatives of the security forces operating in Manipur,” it said.

The report was released on September 2, 2023. “The Guild is extremely disturbed that rather than respond to the concerns raised in the report in a meaningful way, the State government has registered FIRs invoking multiple provisions of the Indian Penal Code. The Guild has already acknowledged and corrected an error that was pointed out regarding a photo caption and we remain open to further discussion,” said the EGI.

It said: “However, the Chief Minister’s labelling of the journalists’ body as ‘anti-State’ and ‘anti-national’ is deeply disturbing, especially given the way the Union government has emphasised the country’s democratic credentials as well as the spirit of freedom of speech at the global stage for the upcoming G20 summit.”

Also Read | Explained | What is behind Manipur’s widespread unrest?  

The People’s Union for Civil Liberty (PUCL) has also sought immediate withdrawal of the FIRs filed by the State police.

Stating that the move was aimed at intimidating the Guild and other reporters from exposing the truth found during the fact-finding exercise, the PUCL said: “What earned the ire of the Manipur government was the fact that the EGI sent a fact-finding mission to Manipur to study the role of the media reporting of the unabated ethnic violence in Manipur. Its terms of reference were to examine the reportage of the violence by the media, to examine whether media was indeed ‘biased and divisive’ as alleged by several stakeholders, to understand and document the way media’s coverage deepened the fissures and the impact of internet shutdown on the ability of the media to function.”

“The conclusions of the EGI’s fact-finding report need to be considered by all stakeholders objectively and dispassionately;...the State government seems to have facilitated the majority community’s anger against the Kukis through several seemingly partisan statements,” said the PUCL.

Also Read | Manipur, a rude reminder of northeast tensions 

It said while the early days of killings and the role of social media had been well documented, it was now visible that the ethnic divide deepened progressively through fake news, which found space largely in Imphal media. “Communication blockade by the government had a deleterious impact on journalism as it directly impacted the ability of journalists to communicate with each other, their editors and their sources,” said the PUCL.

It added that the State had made a mistake in banning the internet. “An internet ban only feeds rumour and blocks the views of the disadvantaged community as has clearly happened in Manipur,” added PUCL statement.

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